A bill to restrict who can assist with absentee ballots caused a stir in the Alabama Legislature on Wednesday, as opponents gathered inside and out.
House Bill 209 (HB209), sponsored by State Rep. Jamie Kiel (R-Russelville), passed the House Constitution, Campaigns and Elections Committee with a 9-3 vote.
With 40 House cosponsors, the bill would make it a class C felony to distribute, order, request, collect, complete, obtain or deliver an absentee ballot application or absentee ballot of another person in certain circumstances.
The language of the bill allows assistance from a person by any family member to the second degree of kinship, a guardian or conservator, a resident of the household who has lived there more than six months, an employee designated by the secretary of state, a designee of the local probate judge or a county absentee election manager.
The bill drew fierce opposition from grassroots organizations and Democratic lawmakers alike.
Entire organizations exist to assist individuals in applying for an absentee ballot and collecting and delivering absentee ballots on behalf of those individuals. The process has been nationally criticized, due to the ability for partisan interference, since a ballot’s validity cannot be determined when delivered by a third party.
In the House Committee, Democratic lawmakers expressed concern with the bill, saying it would be used to discriminate against disabled voters who may be unable to deliver their ballot physically.
State Rep. Juandalynn Givan (R-Birmingham) said the bill showed House Republicans "fear the power of the black vote."
At a later press conference, members of the NAACP said the bill would violate Voting Rights Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Kiel told 1819 News the bill was designed to prevent ballot harvesting, the action of groups collecting mass numbers of absentee ballots and delivering them to the polls.
Secretary of State Wes Allen announced support for HB209, saying, “Nobody should profit from the absentee voting process.”
“The intent of the bill is to make sure that our election process is as secure as possible; really to make sure that we have no bad actors participating in the process,” Kiel told 1819 News. “And one way that we have identified that the process can be manipulated is through ballot harvesting, the passing out and collection of absentee ballots and the applications for those absentee ballots.”
“The goal of the bill is not suppression of the vote, but that everyone who is legally able to vote does vote. If the person needs assistance, they can get that from any family member. …If you don’t have any of those people, the Alabama Secretary of State can appoint somebody to assist you. The probate judge in your county can either assist you or appoint somebody, the local circuit clerk can assist you. So, there’s multiple ways to get assistance, outside of somebody who’s getting paid in the absentee process who is not an election official.”
Outside the state house, protestors against the bill drove multiple vehicles honking their horns and displaying signs.
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